‘Preemp­tion’ bill would sub­vert ban on plas­tic straws

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Opinion - Fred Grimm

Sen. Travis Hut­son hails from Elk­ton in the north­west reaches of Florida, four miles down High­way 207 from Spuds, nine miles south of Mo­lasses Junc­tion and a far piece from Fort Laud­erdale, whether you mea­sure the dis­tance in miles or cul­ture or pol­i­tics. Yet, Sen. Hut­son has no com­punc­tion about med­dling in our lo­cal af­fairs.

He’s of­fended that Fort Laud­erdale and a few other cities far to the south of the Elk­ton-Spuds-Mo­lasses Junc­tion met­ro­pol­i­tan area have adopted or­di­nances de­signed to lessen the del­uge of plas­tic straws foul­ing lo­cal beaches, parks and water­ways, en­dan­ger­ing birds and marine crea­tures and, ac­cord­ing to Sci­en­tific Amer­ica, in­tro­duc­ing toxic mi­cropar­ti­cles of de­graded plas­tic into our food chain.

Fort Laud­erdale passed an or­di­nance last month that will even­tu­ally pro­hibit re­tail out­lets from dis­tribut­ing sin­gle-use plas­tic drink straws and ban them in city-owned fa­cil­i­ties and at pub­lic events that re­quire a city per­mit. In Broward, Deer­field Beach, Dania Beach, Hol­ly­wood and Hal­lan­dale Beach have adopted sim­i­lar mea­sures. So have Mi­ami Beach, Coral Gables, Pinecrest, Surf­side, St. Pe­ters­burg and Fort My­ers.

None of those towns are lo­cated any­where near Hut­son’s state Se­nate dis­trict, where his con­stituents ap­par­ently are un­trou­bled by en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion. But Hut­son told the Mi­ami Her­ald that he was con­cerned with gov­ern­ment “over­reach,” so nat­u­rally the sen­a­tor is reach­ing 300 miles south to smack down lo­cal gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives.

Hut­son’s SB 588, ap­proved Mon­day by the Se­nate Com­merce and Tourism Com­mit­tee, is among the lat­est batch of “preemp­tion” bills de­signed to emas­cu­late home rule, that quaint con­cept memo­ri­al­ized in the 1968 state con­sti­tu­tional re­vi­sion that grants cities and coun­ties “gov­ern­men­tal, cor­po­rate and pro­pri­etary pow­ers” to deal with lo­cal is­sues.

That would seem a down­right con­ser­va­tive con­cept. Yet, over the last decade, the Repub­li­can-dom­i­nated leg­is­la­ture has re­garded home rule with the kind of re­spect Don­ald Trump holds for mar­riage vows. Par­tic­u­larly the kind of home rule prac­ticed along the sub­ver­sive south­east coast.

The Leg­is­la­ture has blocked lo­cal gov­ern­ments from ex­ceed­ing the state’s pid­dling re­quire­ments for paid sick leave and min­i­mum wage. They can’t reg­u­late bee­keep­ers, drones, own­er­ship of dan­ger­ous an­i­mals, dis­posal of bio-waste or smok­ing in pub­lic venues.

City or county com­mis­sion­ers can be fined and tossed in prison just for at­tempt­ing to pass firearm or­di­nances that the NRA finds of­fen­sive.

At least 18 preemp­tion bills in­tro­duced in this leg­isla­tive ses­sion would quash lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tion over (among other is­sues) mo­tor­ized scoot­ers, va­ca­tion rentals, red light cam­eras, fer­til­izer and busi­ness li­censes. And if Sen. Hut­son’s bill be­comes law, cities won’t be able to do a damn thing about plas­tic straws. Not with­out risk­ing a $25,000 fine.

Hut­son was clever. His bill — a love note for gro­cery and restau­rant in­dus­try lob­by­ists — won’t out­right pro­hibit a plas­tic straw ban. Rather lo­cal gov­ern­ments will be re­quired to wait five years be­fore en­act­ing or en­forc­ing a ban, os­ten­si­bly to give the Florida De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion time to study the is­sue.

Of course, a Florida school child only needs about five min­utes to dis­cover that rem­nants of plas­tic straws and other plas­tic dis­cards are show­ing up in the di­ges­tive tracts of 90 per­cent of our sea birds and 30 per­cent of our tur­tles. Be­cause the info is right there on the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion’s own web­site, along with other alarm­ing facts sup­port­ing the state’s very own “Skip the Straw” cam­paign to dis­cour­age the pro­lif­er­a­tion of sin­gle-use plas­tic straws.

Which in­di­cates that DEP re­searchers al­ready stud­ied the prob­lem. Be­sides, they can re­quest plenty more info from the grow­ing num­ber of Amer­i­can cities, in­clud­ing Seat­tle, New York, Los An­ge­les, San Fran­cisco, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., with a plas­tic straw ban. Or they could check with Star­bucks or Steak ‘n’Shake, both of which are phas­ing out plas­tic straws. Or Nova South­east­ern Univer­sity, which de­cided last year to ban plas­tic straws from cam­pus.

DEP doesn’t need five years to study the data. It could be done in five days.

Of course, that’s hardly the point. Just as it wasn’t the point back in 2008 when the Leg­is­la­ture pro­hib­ited lo­cal gov­ern­ments from re­strict­ing the use of Sty­ro­foam con­tain­ers or plas­tic shop­ping bags un­til DEP could con­duct a study. Two years later, DEP de­liv­ered. The Leg­is­la­ture did noth­ing.

Three years ago, Coral Gables said to hell with it and passed a poly­styrene ban. The Florida Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion sued, claim­ing the city was flout­ing state law. But Mi­ami-Dade Cir­cuit Judge Jorge Cueto ruled that the open-ended preemp­tion statute had left Florida’s plas­tic-choked cities in “in­def­i­nite limbo.”

The case gave South Florida a pretty good idea what to ex­pect from the Leg­is­la­ture in five years after the DEP fi­nally de­liv­ers a plas­tic straw study. More “in­def­i­nite limbo.”

Fred Grimm (@grim­m_fred or [email protected]), a long­time res­i­dent of Fort Laud­erdale, has worked as a jour­nal­ist in South Florida since 1976.

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